For 46 years, he's been raising and lowering the Old Town Plaza flags

What keeps Jim Hoffsis going

ALSO: From small mountain town to Old Town, Old Barrel Tea Company rolls on
Jim Hoffsis (left), with his son, John, on a recent afternoon.
The task takes just takes a few minutes and is usually accomplished with zero fanfare. Two men, a father and son, arrive at Old Town Plaza every morning, raise five flags, then return in the late afternoon to lower them. 

It is, on one hand, a wholly unremarkable occasion. The same thing happens across the country and the world every day. But for Jim Hoffsis (the father), this is no passing hobby. He has been at this twice-daily ritual for no less than 46 years.

Hoffsis arrived in Albuquerque in 1974, after a 20-year career as a sales rep for Chevron, and opened a gift shop in Old Town. In those days, he recalled, there were flagpoles but no actual flags flying, a point he soon brought up at a meeting of area merchants.

"You should have heard the damn excuses," he said.

Unimpressed, he took matters into his own hands, contacted the city, and offered them a deal: If they replaced the inferior rope on the flagpoles with a more durable cable, he would spring for the flags and see to their display.

The rest is history. Except for an annual trip to his high school reunion in Ohio, Hoffsis has been out there every day, rain or shine. John Hoffsis, his son, fills in while he's on vacation, and has lately been helping out to make sure that any onlookers observe proper social distancing. 

(John, who lives in West Old Town, owns Treasure House Books and Gifts, on the south side of the plaza. Jim, who lives in Huning Castle, owns the building that the bookstore occupies.)

Jim Hoffsis served in the Korean War (1951-1953, in the Third Infantry Division), where he reported to John Eisenhower, the son of President Dwight Eisenhower, among others. But if his appreciation of the flag was honed while serving in the army, the original inspiration goes back much further. He grew up one of nine kids in Ohio, where his mother volunteered him to deliver the Columbus Citizen newspaper. One day, it printed the image of an American flag, and he happened to see it on a stack of newspapers stashed in a wagon.

It proved an inspirational moment.

"I got hooked on it and I have flown the flag ever since," Hoffsis said.

The Old Town tableau - which besides Old Glory features the flags of the city, the state, Mexico, and Spain - is meant to showcase the governing entities that have presided in Albuquerque over the years. The display experienced a change of cast in 2015, when then-Mayor Richard Berry decided to replace a confederate flag with the city flag. But other than that, the flags have generally faded into the background of life around the plaza. That's true even for people who happen to be in the area when they're being raised or lowered, something Hoffsis takes note of.

"When I put up the flag I always scan the crowd to see who's paying attention," he said.

Generally, the answer is nobody, but there are exceptions, and he's had many heartfelt conversations with them over the years.

"Most of these people lost someone in a war," Hoffsis said.

At 92, Hoffsis has no plans to stop his daily routine in the Old Town Plaza. In fact, he has every intention of pulling off a much more daring feat of physical exertion in 11 years. The current age record for skydiving is 102, set by an Australian woman, and Hoffsis aims to beat it at 103.

"I tell my doctors: If you're still alive, come down and watch," he said.
From a small mountain town to Old Town, Old Barrel Tea Company rolls on
The business is located at Romero and Plaza Street. Photo by Old Barrel Tea Company.
Check out the list of locations for the Old Barrel Tea Company, and a pattern quickly starts to develop: There's Ruidoso and Cloudcroft here in New Mexico, and also Golden and Durango in Colorado - small mountain towns all.

And then the pattern breaks, with Mesilla, the historic district near Las Cruces, and our very own Old Town.

"We were the most nervous about going to Old Town," said Bailey Riddle, Old Barrel's founder.

It didn't fit their accustomed market, of course, but it also opened the business up to competition that it doesn't have to deal with in smaller communities. And yet, "after we opened [in 2016] it was one of our top-performing stores," Riddle said.

The company is very much a family affair. Riddle's mom helps run the business, as do two sisters-in-law. One of them, Paola Huffmon, runs the company's Albuquerque blending operation. Family friends are heavily involved as well, sometimes running their own locations.

"It became a full-blown family business," Riddle said. "That's sort of how we intend to keep it."

But if the retail gods have generally smiled on the Old Town location, that has certainly changed as tourist traffic has dropped off in recent months. "Really slow days" have become normal, Riddle said.

But they've been using the downtime to catch up on painting and light renovation projects, and remain optimistic that the pleasure people have taken out of tea for millennia will keep them afloat. 

"It's a pretty ancient business when you think about it," Riddle said. "People have been buying and trading tea forever."
Downtown Albuquerque News covers greater Downtown, which we generally define as the area created by I-40, the Rio Grande, and the railroad tracks. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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